As we flip our calendars over each month after the start of the new year, a lot of accountant moms might be experiencing a wave of stress and anxiety, especially those in public accounting. Once January is over, we all know that tax season is just waiting to pounce on us like a lion waiting in the brush.
As I shared in episode #121 – How To Have A Stress-Free Busy Season, stress and anxiety are not unique to the accounting profession, but when you add the demands of an accounting career to the demands of being a mom, it can pretty much guarantee that you’ll experience varying degrees of stress trying to balance it all. Before you know it, you’re overwhelmed, frustrated and confused about how to handle everything you have to do.
On the one hand, as a modern working woman living in the time of technology, you fortunately have the incredible ability to use that technology to help you in so many ways, especially in the work you do as an accountant. But on the other hand, with all the benefits you have with technology, you are also living in a time of information overload and information disorganization.
This can show up in various ways:
- One long to-do list that never seems to get done
- An email inbox with hundreds of emails
- Physical piles of paper used as “reminders”
- Post-it notes placed all over the place
- Constant phone notifications
- Trying to remember everything in your head
If you think about it, you have so much information coming at you from so many different directions. It’s no wonder you feel overwhelmed when you have things like email, text messages, FB messenger, Instagram, Slack, Trello, phone calls, calendar notifications and FaceTime vying for your attention.
There are so many different ways that you’re getting sent information and a lot of it has information you need to know or tasks you need to do that’s embedded in it. Unfortunately this isn’t just happening at work; you also have information coming at you both professionally and personally.
When I began my accounting career over 30 years ago, there were much fewer distractions while I was trying to get my accounting work done, and definitely less distractions when I was home with my family. As with all of you, I have had to learn and adapt as technologies have changed over the years, but I’ve also needed to learn and adapt how I manage my time as well.
I can honestly say that taking back control of my time and getting more done in less time is something that I’ve been working on for awhile and might just be one of my super powers. It’s a skill I have honed and perfected over the years, and it’s something that I want to encourage you to consider learning as well.
Just know that time actually is on your side when you learn how to work better with it. Learning the skill of how to take back control of your time is a gift you give to yourself professionally, but it’s also a gift you give to yourself and your family personally because it allows you to be less stressed and enjoy your time.
From one working mom to another, learning how to take back control of your time is a career and life changer. It allows you to be incredibly efficient and to create the balanced life that you really want and deserve.
This week I’m going to discuss the power of being proactive and how to use that power to take back control of your time.
The power of being proactive
In a deadline-driven world like accounting, it can become very easy to rely on external deadlines or external motivations in order to get things done. But what often happens is that you wind up believing there aren’t enough hours in the day to get things done, that you need to work harder and longer, and that more work means more stress.
When you look around at all the other stressed accountants around you, it just adds another layer of belief that time is not on your side and that there’s not much you can do about it. Of course there’s more work to get done at various times of the year, but the issue isn’t the increased amount of work at those various times.
The issue is that as accountants, with all the education and knowledge we have, we were never taught how to use our brains optimally, or worse, we believe we already are. The truth is that most of us use our brain ineffectually as a storage facility for all the knowledge necessary to do our jobs, and also use it as a manager for all the work that needs to get done.
Unfortunately, since time seems in short supply, we tend to become much more reactive than proactive. So instead of creating time, we wind up reacting to time, as if we’re not in control and there’s nothing we can really do about how much we have to get done, or how much time we have to get it done.
The truth is that you don’t actually need MORE time, you just need to be more intentional and in control of your time. You need to understand how you’re not using your time as wisely as you could and how you are underutilizing your brain to handle all the information you are bombarded with.
It honestly doesn’t matter how high your IQ is, whether you are just starting out, have your own successful firm, or what your title is because if you are stressed, overwhelmed or feel like you’re always trying to catch up, I can guarantee that you’re not using your accountant brain optimally. It’s definitely not your fault; you’ve just never been taught how.
For a lot of hard working accountant moms, it can be challenging to accept that you don’t need more time to get everything done, but I’ve seen it time and time again with myself and with my clients. If you want to take back control of your time, you need to be more proactive and less reactive with your time, and you need to understand how your accountant brain works for you and against you.
In order to be more proactive, you need to use the higher, prefrontal cortex, part of your human brain to override your lower, primitive brain’s tendency to become overwhelmed easily. Your lower brain is motivated to seek pleasure, avoid pain, and expend as little energy as possible, and for accountant moms trying to manage things like accounting work and housework, these things are typically not pleasurable, often frustrating, and require effort.
Again, if you typically feel stressed, overwhelmed, or always under pressure, you’re not using your accountant brain to the best of its ability. There are plenty of webinars you can take about better time management for accountants, but until you understand your accountant’s brain better, no system, phone app or calendar is going to work the way you want it to.
When you learn how to understand your unique accountant brain better, that’s when things can really change. That’s when you will be amazed at how much more you can get done, how much more efficient you can be, and how much more energy you can have.
How to use the power of being proactive
If you can’t already tell, I’m pretty passionate about learning how the brain works and how to help accountant moms use their brain to the best of its ability. I’m also a huge proponent of better time management and being able to have a balanced life.
I have spent most of my career figuring out how to be as efficient and productive as possible, while also having a very balanced life. What I have discovered is that one of the secrets to taking back control of your time is being as proactive as possible.
The reason I think it’s so important to understand how to be proactive is because being proactive with your brain and with your time means you decide ahead of time what you’re going to do, how long it will take, and when you’re going to do it. It means learning how to take control of information overload and information disorganization.
Being proactive means you no longer accept that procrastination and waiting until the pressure of a deadline is “just how I get things done”. When you’re proactive you do things ahead of time and instead of reacting to the situations in your life, you create your situations as much as possible.
When you’re proactive, you are constantly creating your future ahead of time and then reaping the benefits when you get to that future moment in time. There is so much less mind drama because being proactive means you planned your time with your higher brain, and now you just need to follow the plan.
Being proactive means you anticipate the obstacles you’ll most likely encounter and you plan for them as well. You stop blaming a lack of time for your struggles and you begin taking back control of your time so you can get more done in less time.
Thankfully, being proactive is really a very small investment of time that pays huge dividends, allowing you to not only get more done, but to have the balanced life you really want as well. It decreases decision fatigue, decreases overwhelm and increases your ability to be more efficient and productive.
Before I share the steps to being proactive, I want you to know that in the deadline-driven world of accounting, fear and pressure aren’t the motivators that you might think they are. They often lead to procrastination, overwhelm, and confusion, making you less efficient than you could be if you were more proactive.
So, in order to be proactive and get more done in less time, I suggest the following steps:
- Make a plan to produce specific results – decide what you want and make a plan to achieve a specific result. Don’t just plan on doing something or taking some kind of action. When you don’t plan for results, you just create busyness; busyness for the sake of being busy is a huge time waster. For a lot of accountants, being busy is a badge of honor, but in order to take back control of your time and get more done in less time, you need to be more intentional with your time. Look at the next 24 hours. What is your goal? What do you want accomplished? Start to think more in terms of results than in actions.
- Make your own deadlines – there are plenty of deadlines that are already baked into the job of an accountant, but it’s important for you to rely less on external deadlines and begin to rely more on internal deadlines. In order to be proactive, you have to create deadlines for yourself that are in advance of any external deadline. Begin to look at the results you want from Step #1 and plan everything to be due ahead of time. When you plan to be done in advance of any external due date, you become much more efficient and more intentional with your time.
- Schedule the results on your calendar in time blocks – the reason it’s important to schedule everything is because when you are making decisions, you are using the higher part of your brain. This is the super power that humans have, but you completely underutilize. This is the part of your brain that can see the big picture, helping you to be proactive instead of reactive. With this step, it’s also important to be kind to yourself and to be realistic when scheduling your calendar, as well as understand how and when you work best for different activities. Are you more creative earlier in the day? Are you more focused after lunch? What obstacles might come up? What’s your strategy for those obstacles? Schedule everything, including, and most importantly, your free time. If you want your accountant brain to be on board and not get overwhelmed and burned out, you need to schedule free time no matter what.
- Follow the plan – the reason being proactive is so important is because once you’ve followed steps 1 through 3, you just need to now follow the plan. This allows your lower brain to expend less energy, not having to make too many decisions in the moment. One of the other biggest time-wasters for accountants is decision fatigue, especially for accountant moms. If you’ve invested just a little time making a plan to produce specific results, and scheduled the results on your calendar in time blocks, then the decisions have been made, and all you need to do is follow the plan. Again, you used your higher brain when you decided what you were going to do and when, so now you just need to do what’s on the calendar, freeing up so much more energy to get more done in less time.
One last thing – don’t fall into the trap of believing you don’t have the time to be proactive. That is just your lower brain’s tendency to resist anything that may take a little effort at first.
If you really want to have a more balanced and productive life, as well as get more done in less time, you need to take back control of your time. If you need help, The Balanced Accountant Program is the perfect solution. You can find out more about it HERE.
- Learning the skill of how to take back control of your time is a gift you give to yourself professionally, but it’s also a gift you give to yourself and your family personally because it allows you to be less stressed and enjoy your time.
- The issue is that as accountants, with all the education and knowledge we have, we were never taught how to use our brains optimally, or worse, we believe we already are.
- The truth is that you don’t actually need MORE time, you just need to be more intentional and in control of your time.
- Thankfully, being proactive is really a very small investment of time that pays huge dividends, allowing you to not only get more done, but to have the balanced life you really want as well.